Joe Hewitt

Apps and Web URLs: Perfect Together

I've been thinking about ways to save the Web from being buried in the avalanche of native apps we've been seeing. As I recently wrote, hyperlinks are the defining characteristic of the Web, but most native platforms break the hypertext model. iOS and Android support URLs for navigating between apps, but the URLs they support are not portable to other platforms. For example, you can link to my Facebook profile on iOS using fb://profile/joehewitt, but this URL is useless on Android or in a desktop browser.

Many of the URLs that iOS and Android apps support have an equivalent URL for the Web. For instance, fb://profile/joehewitt translates to http://facebook.com/joehewitt on the Web. It would be ideal if the OS could automatically perform this translation for any third-party app, just as iOS redirects Google Maps and YouTube URLs to their native app equivalents.

We don't have to wait and hope that Apple or Google solve this problem for us. Here's a solution we could build now: a Web service that translates between Web URLs and native URLs using a community-maintained database. Domain owners could claim the mappings for their domain using an authentication process. There could be accompanying libraries that developers could link into their native apps which help to find the best way to display a URL. If you happen to have the Facebook app installed, and you tap a facebook.com URL, the service would redirect you to the native app. If it's not installed, it would open the URL in the default Web browser.

This service would make URLs more future friendly and really underscore their "universal" nature. It would allow hypertext to transition beautifully into this new world in which browsers are not the only way to consume Web content.